Junk food of the week: Bakpia

If you go away for a few days, you will likely be bombarded with requests for oleh-oleh (souvenirs) when you get back: from your office-mates, your friends, even, in our case, the woman who runs the shop on the corner where you buy your drinking water. Everyone will pretend they’re kidding … but you’d better bring something back anyway, because you don’t want to be known as that person who never gives out any oleh-oleh.

These little flaky stuffed pastries called bakpia are a good choice when you go to Yogyakarta because they are 1. food, so you avoid matters of personal style; 2. affordable; 3. strongly associated with Yogya; 4. pretty universally acceptable (as opposed to, say, durian candy); and 5. tasty.

I found bakpia a little dry at first, but then they grew on me. The classic filling is sweet mung bean paste, which is good, but my favorite is purple yam. The colored dot on top tells you what the filling is.

This box confused me at first because it said purple yam on the front, but then listed the flavors on the side as chocolate, mung bean and cheese. The latter turned out to be flavors added to the purple yam, which is why the fillings above have slightly different colors.

Perhaps it’s a measure of how long I’ve been here that yam-and-cheese doesn’t strike me as a weird filling for a cookie. It does seem like gilding the lily, because yam is perfectly tasty on its own. Needless to say, that didn’t stop me from eating the whole box.



One of the advantages of living in an officially multi-religious state (Indonesia formally recognizes 6 faiths) is that you get a lot of holidays. Today, for example, is Nyepi, the Balinese Hindu day of silence. There aren’t too many Hindus in Jakarta, but Nyepi becomes its own sort of day of silence here: offices are closed, people have left town for the long weekend, and the roads are blissfully half-empty. Coming up are the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday and Good Friday — both government holidays too.

Because religion has an official role here, you get asked about your faith at a lot of strange times and places. When I had to report my lost ATM card to the police earlier this week, for example — which seemed weird in itself, but the bank insisted — the officer asked my religion and wrote my answer on the form. Then he asked me exactly where and when I lost the card. I refrained from pointing out that if I knew those things, I would know where to find the card. Instead I just made some stuff up, which must be what everybody does.

I didn’t take a picture of the policeman, but you can imagine a guy in a tan-and-brown uniform that didn’t look very comfortable, playing solitaire on his computer in a tiny box of an office underneath a local overpass. There was no AC and the room was pretty hot and sticky, even though this is the cool time of year. It must get pretty unbearable in August.

Anyway, I guess I’ll just have to post a picture of the kitty instead. Susu is improving by leaps and bounds; her digestive problems have cleared up, which is giving the sores and other stuff a chance to heal. She’s used the litter box faithfully for the past two days so we’re crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. She’s pretty hyper sometimes, especially when she’s chasing crumpled balls of paper, but she still likes to sleep on the back of my neck while I type on the couch. In other words, she’s a pretty cool cat.

The end of Total Assy

Looking back, I now think of our first months here as the golden era of the Total Assy window sticker. It seemed like half the SUVs in Jakarta had them. But someone must have put the word out that Total Assy is not actually a compliment, and now they’ve become an endangered species. I’ve trying to photograph one for at least three months, so I was very excited to find this one on a backstreet near a friend’s house last weekend.

Looking up

In the end, it was my fault. I mixed up the instructions from the vet and wasn’t giving enough of the anti-diarrhea medicine. Now it’s all straightened out and Susu is improving rapidly. She’s more energetic and has started holding her tail straight up, which seems like a sign of good spirits. She watches all our goings-on keenly and likes to chase my fingers when I read and/or work on the computer.

We’re not quite out of the woods yet, however, as she is still thinking outside the box occasionally when it comes to personal waste disposal. My sister is sending one of those amazing pet-smell neutralizers from the States, which will be much appreciated.

Chad was carrying Susu down the street in a cardboard box the other day when he ran into one Dani, one of the local motorcycle taxi drivers. After peeking into the box and seeing our bedraggled kitten, Dani said, “Are you throwing her away?”

He was joking — I think.

The fabulous twenties machine

One measure of the income gap in Jakarta is the fact that money from the ATM is so hard to use on the street.

Most ATMs spit out 50,000 or 100,000 rupiah notes — about $5 and $10, respectively. But if you want to buy fried rice on the street for 6,000, the guys selling it often won’t have change. They’ll typically go around to other street sellers until they find someone who can break it.

Even paying for a 20,000 rp taxi fare with a 50,000 can be difficult. And the 100k bills! They’re practically useless outside expensive hotels, restaurants and malls.

There are several solutions to this problem (if having access to large denominations of money can even be called a problem — which of course it can’t). First, you can stock up at one of the rare and sought-after twenties machines. I know of only two: one near Deutsche Bank, and the other in an apartment tower where some friends used to live.

Another is to become a notorious bill-scrounger. These are the people who, after dining out with a group, shamelessly scoop up all the small bills from the kitty and replace them with 50s and 100s. This is not wrong, exactly, but it doesn’t seem like good behavior either.

Another is to frequent businesses that break large bills. The busway is excellent for this purpose because they don’t bat an eye if you pay for a 3500 rp ticket with a 50,000 note.

I’ve seen a lot of amazing things in Indonesia — a volcanic eruption, a lake of boiling mud, a guy who drinks his own pee — but one of my enduring memories is of watching a woman pay for a 2,000 rp bemo ride with a 100,000 note. She was so nonchalant! It was like watching someone do a perfect triple back flip off the diving board in the Olympics. I wanted to hold up a little sign that said “10.0”. I think she must have known the driver, though.